He was conscious that Madame Olenska was looking at him under lowered lids. “I have done what you wished—what you advised,” she said abruptly.
“Ah—I’m glad,” he returned, embarrassed by her broaching the subject at such a moment.
“I understand—that you were right,” she went on a little breathlessly; “but sometimes life is difficult . . . perplexing. . .”
“And I wanted to tell you that I do feel you were right; and that I’m grateful to you,” she ended, lifting her opera-glass quickly to her eyes as the door of the box opened and Beaufort’s resonant voice broke in on them.
Archer stood up, and left the box and the theatre.
Only the day before he had received a letter from May Welland in which, with characteristic candour, she had asked him to “be kind to Ellen” in their absence. “She likes you and admires you so much—and you know, though she doesn’t show it, she’s still very lonely and unhappy. I don’t think Granny understands her, or uncle Lovell Mingott either; they really think she’s much worldlier and fonder of society than she is. And I can quite see that New York must seem dull to her, though the family won’t admit it. I think she’s been used to lots of things we haven’t got; wonderful music, and picture shows, and celebrities—artists and authors and all the clever people you admire. Granny can’t understand her wanting anything but lots of dinners and clothes—but I can see that you’re almost the only person in New York who can talk to her about what she really cares for.”
His wise May—how he had loved her for that letter! But he had not meant to act on it; he was too busy, to begin with, and he did not care, as an engaged man, to play too conspicuously the part of Madame Olenska’s champion. He had an idea that she knew how to take care of herself a good deal better than the ingenuous May imagined. She had Beaufort at her feet, Mr. van der Luyden hovering above her like a protecting deity, and any number of candidates (Lawrence Lefferts among them) waiting their opportunity in the middle distance. Yet he never saw her, or exchanged a word with her, without feeling that, after all, May’s ingenuousness almost amounted to a gift of divination. Ellen Olenska was lonely and she was unhappy.
As he came out into the lobby Archer ran across his friend Ned Winsett, the only one among what Janey called his “clever people” with whom he cared to probe into things a little deeper than the average level of club and chop-house banter.
He had caught sight, across the house, of Winsett’s shabby round-shouldered back, and had once noticed his eyes turned toward the Beaufort box. The two men shook hands, and Winsett proposed a bock at a little German restaurant around the corner. Archer, who was not in the mood for the kind of talk they were likely to get there, declined on the plea that he had work to do at home; and Winsett said: “Oh, well so have I for that matter, and I’ll be the Industrious Apprentice too.”